The mountain bluebird that graced Illinois birders with its presence for a few days, photographed by its discover Mathew Winks.

It was late Saturday afternoon on April 9 and I had already made arrangements with Tim Wallace to meet him early the next morning to cover Wadsworth. Then the phone rang. Andy Sigler was at the other end telling me that he was watching a mountain bluebird, a species that has certainly occurred in Illinois on several occasions but which few birders have on their state list. Andy had been birding in central Illinois and was about to pack it in when he had been called that the bluebird was just outside of Towanda in MacLean County. Detouring on his way home, he followed the dirctions and saw one of the easierst to find rarities he has observerd in a while: the gorgeous male was perched on the same sign that enabled Mathew Winks to first find it.
Andy’s call was just late enough for me to doubt whether I could get there in time so I resolved to go the next day. In spring, when the hormones are churning, most rarities are apt to be restless and hardly ever stay in the same place. Indeed, this would be the first state bird in quite a few years that either Andy or I have seen before June. Almost all are in late summer or fall.
MacLean County is also home to Angelo Caparella and Gretchen Knapp, two of my favorite people. The reports were that both of them had seen the bird so I called, always looking for an excuse to get together, and they graciously agreed to meet us at the gas station in the metropolis that is Towanda. We reached the bridge where a stream meandered amid seemingly endless corn fields. Some short trees and other greenery flanked the waterway and a line of trees broke up the horizon. A few birders had already assembled and the number grew to about 15 when Greg Niece saw the bird land on the favored sign and then headed into the field. It was a windy day so the bird preferred to forage low. Even knowing roughly where it was, locating him was a challenge but with thirty eyes straining he could not hide in a dirt field for long. 392 bird!
The back story as told by Mathew Winks on the Illinois Birders Forum is worth quoting:
“When I got my binoculars on the bird I realized it was a bluebird showing no rufous color and probably a Mountain Bluebird. I hung up the phone and called [good birding friend Matt] Fraker and he said “I’m on the way!”
I stayed with the bird while taking some photos for what seemed like an eternity. I was completely freaking out and had the shakes. I was trying to call other area birders to get out there. I had the bird very close to the bridge for a while, but then it decided to start moving south into the corn field getting further and further away. I was afraid nobody was going to every see this bird but me at one point.
The other twisted part of the story is the fact that I’ve been without a Lumix camera for over a month. I left it in Sam Burckhardt’s car while birding the lakefront in early March. He sent it to me via USPS Priority Mail just before departing for Switzerland. It was supposed to arrive March 21st, but I never received it. The post office said they sent it back because it was undeliverable and have been no help in locating it. Sam won’t be returning until the end of April. Although I’m not a big photographer, I had been growing increasingly uncomfortable without having a camera in case I came across something crazy. I had been hounding Fraker to borrow his Lumix for the last few days since he has graduated to the Nikon SLR. I grabbed the Lumix Saturday morning and threw it in my car. And now I’m so glad that I did.”

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6 Comments to “A Mountain Bluebird Visits the Plains of Central Illinois”

  1. lorra rudman says:

    He was just in my yard. Lincolnshire, just across the street from Ryerson Woods. 10 am saturday may 21.

  2. Larene Barbieri says:

    wow….WHAT A JOY TO SEE SOMETHING DIFFERENT..
    its been visiting our yard for about 2/3 weeks now..
    it seems to like hanging around our wood pile.
    *(the cut up tree trunks have been there for a year now)
    I hope they didnt move inside the wood pile as my Son will be moving ALL the wood Memorial Day Weekend for a party down by the river

    Yorkville, IL 60560
    Still trying to get a picture…it moves quickly

  3. Joel says:

    Ms. Rudman,
    Mountain bluebirds are so rare in IL they would require documentation in the way of a photo (ideal) or detailed written description. You might want to check that it is not an indigo bunting, a far more common all blue bird that returns to this region in May.

    Joel

  4. Joel says:

    Ms. Barbieri,

    I have no idea where you are located but if in the Midwest you should try to get a photo of the bird and show it to other birders. If tha tis not possible you should write a detailed written description so your state’s rare bird comjmittee will hav

  5. Luciana Seymour says:

    We have a pair living in our area. They seem to be here all Spring and most of the Summer.

  6. Joel says:

    It would be unprecedented for a mountain bluebird to spend a spring and summer in Illinois. Could you send a photo or have another bird take a look at it to confirm the identification? Where in central Illinois are you?

    Joel

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